Three Monks Come to Stay

In September, I had the privilege of three Buddhist monks staying with me for about four days at my home, here in Totnes, Devon, England. Venerable Phap Son (Brother Michael), an abbot in a monastery in France of the much beloved Thich Nhat Hanh, the 81 year old Vietnamese monk, teacher and prolific Buddhist author, came here with two monks, Venerable Phap Due and Venerable Duc Tang.

 

It was a sheer delight to be with them. All three exuded a depth of mindfulness and kindness that exemplifies the teachings of their teacher, known as Thay.

 

I have known Venerable Phap Son around 15 years. He participated in a retreat with me in Majorca, Spain, then later became a Gaia House manager and lived in Totnes, and regularly came to my home. He has been ordained for more than a decade. We had an opportunity to talk together during his stay about the ordained Sangha, teaching the Dharma and sharing of wisdom.

 

As with all monasteries, East and West, there is the ongoing challenge of community life, of finding ways to meet the differences between people, to see wise steps forward, and acknowledge that for some, mostly Westerners, the period of commitment as a Buddhist monk may last for a few years rather than all life.

 

My three guests were very dedicated to monastic life and the Dharma of exploration.

 

Ven Phap Son told me that Thay’s innovative vision has made it possible for new rules and guidelines to be established that contribute to the cohesion of monastic life for monks and nuns. When an agreement is made after widespread consultation, monks and nuns keep to a guideline of not backbiting and undermining a collective decision so that the agreement has the opportunity to take root.

 

It is the kind of guideline that would be very helpful in Dharma centres. The tendency to keep harping on about a decision that one does not solidly support can wither away trust and respect. Thay, his monks and nuns, continue to explore the middle way between absolutism and relativity.

 

My three monks guests took an evening meal – a different tradition from the world of Theravada Buddhist monks and nuns who take no food after midday. I asked one of the monks around 6pm on the first evening of their visit whether they ate in the evening. He smiled broadly. In the tradition, that means “yes, please.”

 

Mind you, I had to cook for them.

 

It was a joy to share my home with them. I hope they will return next year.